I’m one of the first defenders of books from an aesthetic standpoint – not in terms of their content, but in terms of their appearance. A well-stocked bookshelf goes a long way toward making an apartment presentable, especially if it’s fortunate enough to be full of leather-bound first editions trimmed in gold (mahogany smell is optional but strongly encouraged). Even if the titles haven’t been cracked, the image alone speaks to the attention that one spends on their collection, both in terms of caring for the books and the investment you’re willing to make.
But for some people, leaving the books on a shelf to admire isn’t enough – the physical form of a book has a potential the publishers likely never even imagined. Whether it’s expanding on the general symbolism of what the book represents, a visual twist on the titles or simply using it as a base for incredibly detailed origami, there are a lot of artists working today who are doing wonderful things with the medium. A twinge does come up at the fact that a book had to go under the knife and have its readability destroyed, but I think most authors would be pleasantly surprised to see their works rendered in this new light.
Having amassed a collection of links from various literary sites, Twitter feeds and randomly posted links, I decided to gather a few of my favorite examples of using books as the raw materials for art. Links and pictures are provided below, and I strongly encourage you to take a look and appreciate just how clever some people get with the contents of their shelf.
- The work of Robert The is a fantastic reshaping of books, chopping them up in elaborate shapes to create guns and crustaceans and even a hangman’s noose. There’s a lot of symbolism tied up in each of these (the noose is made up of a dictionary, Bibles are turned into the links of chains, an encyclopedia heads up a broom) and it’s art that really makes you think when you look at it. And of course, the fact that he’s a graduate of my alma mater the University of Wisconsin doesn’t hurt. There’s also a great essay/interview here that discusses his work from a critical perspective, with two other interesting artists below.
- Nicholas Galanin is another artist who works in the same sort of style – cutting and reshaping books to form sculpture – but his What Have We Become? set puts a whole new face on the subject. The cutting of heads and profiles shows a great deal of care on the artist’s part, and creates some rather unsettling reliefs that look worlds better than any bust or African mask.
- Brian Dettmer’s art cuts a little bit deeper – literally – as he chops into the books to construct his series of “Book Autopsies,” odd works that evoke a mix of M.C. Escher and window boxes I saw in the Chicago Art Institute’s modern art wing one year. Visually complex and inventive, many of these are books begging to be leafed through to see how the effect carries out – thought I’d never dare to do so.
- For a prime example of visual storytelling, look no further than these pieces by Su Blackwell, marvelously fragile dioramas that construct scenes from “Alice in Wonderland” and “Peter Pan” among others. She says in her artist’s statement that she creates works that “reflect on the precariousness of the world we inhabit and the fragility of our life, dreams and ambitions,” and the almost etheral nature of the scenes she has chosen only adds to the effect.
- Lastly, while not exactly art in the sense as the previous creations, this line of Don’t Judge Me “book safes” by Busted Typewriter ranks highly as one of the most creative uses for old books I’ve ever seen. You can also purchase them straight off of Etsy if you feel so inclined.
Anyone else know of an artist working in the field that I’ve missed? Post the link below so everyone else can bask in their splendor.